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Howard's End: Perceptions Of Irradiation

The Australia New Zealand Food Authority (ANZFA) yesterday backed Australia's first irradiated food proposal paving the way for potential use of the controversial treatment at a plant at Narangba, just north of Brisbane. Will "New Zealand" in the ANZFA name damage our clean green image to overseas consumers? Maree Howard writes.

ANZFA yesterday released a draft recommendation for comment saying that it had found irradiated herbs and spices would be safe to consume.

It said " Approval of this application will bring significant benefits to consumers, industry and government."

But the ANZFA recommendation was immediately condemned by local residents at Narangba as opening the door to a dangerous new industry.

"I don't want a nuclear industry in Queensland, let alone my backyard," said Narangba Community Progress Association spokeswoman, Suzi Tooks.

Steritech, who made the application for a food irradiation license and is behind the Narangba plant, praised ANZFA for its assessment process.

Steritech Geneal Manager, George West said" The core business of the planned Narangba plant would be sterilising medical, pharmaceutical and other products."

"If food irradiation occured at all, it would be just another market sector that will at best increase our volume or market by about 15 percent," Mr West said.

If the project is to proceed it would also need Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill's approval.

However, it would be the first time that food irradiation would be allowed in Australia.

If ANZFA's recommendation is adopted, gamma rays, x-rays or electrons, as ionised radiation, will be used to treat foods to ANZFA standards and it would also allow further approved food irradiation facilities to be built.

Around 42 countries use irradiation to preserve food or ensure its safety by destroying insects, moulds or yeasts, preventing sprouting and slowing the ripening process.

ANZFA found that irradiation worked just as well or better than existing chemical treatments in decontaminating food, while lowering chemical residues.

"To enable those consumers who do not wish to consume foods treated with this technology to make an informed choice, irradiated foods will be labelled," ANZFA said.

The agency's recommendation, once finalised, will go to the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council for consideration.

But this recommendation seems to create a major problem for New Zealand and our promotion of a clean, green image overseas - a big selling point to buyers of New Zealand food and to tourists.

It's that our name - New Zealand - forms part of the name of an agency which is now backing food irradiated with gamma rays, x-rays or electrons.

Like in politics, perception is often more important than reality in the public mind and I wonder just what people overseas will now think of us, even if the food is safe to eat.

Over many years New Zealand has actively promoted a nuclear free world and we are renowned for it - that's why our food products sell so well on the global markets.

But we are now part of an organisation that recommends the exact opposite.

Worse, ANZFA can ride on the back of our clean, green name to promote a nuclear food industry in Australia.

Does anyone worry about that?

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